Thursday, December 31, 2009

H 4

This is the one of the most important inventions of all time:  a clock sufficiently accurate for a navigator to determine his ship's longitude, or distance west or east of Greenwich, England (zero degrees longitude).

The determination of latitude is simple; in less than an hour anyone can be taught how to use a sextant to measure the sun's height above the horizon in degrees at "high noon" (local apparent noon), and how to correct that "altitude" for time of year (declination), height of eye, refraction, and error of sextant. The result of this "noon sight" is latitude, accurate to a mile or so if the sextant work is good, and no clock needed.

Latitude is very good, but's just one line of position (LOP), and that's not a fix. By measuring the altitude in degrees of a navigational body at a known time, a line of position perpendicular to the body's azimuth ("direction" from the navigator to the body) can be determined, which, when crossed with a noon sight advanced along the ship's track, or with a sun, moon, star or planet sight, gives a fix. In short, an LOP developed other than by noon sight (ok, or a sight on Polaris, which of course also can give only latitude) requires time, and a second of error can equal a mile on the chart.

In 1714 the British government offered 20,000 pounds (around $4.5 million, in 2009 dollars) to the first person to develop an accurate means of determining longitude at sea. Others focused on cumbersome methods of determining time by reference to the movement of heavenly bodies, but watchmaker John Harrison worked for thirty-four years to perfect a clock accurate at sea. His masterpiece, the H4, lost but 4 seconds on a trip from England to Jamaica, an error corresponding to less than two nautical miles. I saw this instrument, on a pilgrimage to Greenwich in 2007. It is about seven inches across. These clocks initially cost roughly one-quarter as much as a merchant ship might.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Anchoring - final words

If you believe another vessel is preparing to anchor too close to you, it is your obligation to so advise the other yacht, and to require them to anchor elsewhere. Stewing about it isn't enough.

It is surprising how often a yacht will enter a large anchorage and anchor near the only other yacht anchored there, close enough to hear conversation. Better to assume the other yacht is happy to have its privacy.
It's fun to squeeze into an anchorage full of happy yachts, but use caution. Once, cruising with a seasoned skipper, we entered a tight Maine harbor and picked up a mooring with a nice new pennant. The moorings were said to be granite block sunk in mud, all new that year - who could ask for better? But we shifted to another mooring, similar configuration, also new, but heavier.

An hour later a squall blew up and ashore someone claimed 60 knots of wind. We sawed from side to side and lay over maybe 25 degrees on the mooring. Some daysailors sank on the mooring. I keep that experience in mind when choosing an anchoring hole. If we'd been at anchor in some crowded harbor, there would have been trouble.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Spring Line

We were anchored off Rum Key in an open rodestead. The wind was east but there was a small swell from the southwest. The 54 foot yawl rolled and rolled.

I took a 5/8 nylon line and secured it - the spring line - to the anchor rode, using a rolling hitch. (I might have seized the hitch's tale to the rode, for added reliability.) The other end I took all the way aft on the port side to a quarter block. We paid out more anchor line until the rolling hitch was about 100 feet from the yacht, then put the spring line on a winch and took a strain. Gradually the yawl came round so she was facing the swell, and the rolling ceased. We didn't lie to the spring all night - too much strain on the anchor line, with the yacht now almost beam to the wind - but it sure made the evening easier.

Another time we were out for a dinner sail with friends and there was a lovely sunset. The better to view it, I put a little spring line on the anchor rode and brought the sunset on Journeyman's beam.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Buoying the Anchor

A friend had to abandon his anchor South Freeport Harbor, Maine when he couldn't raise it. South Freeport has been a busy anchorage for two hundred years or more, so it is not surprising that his anchor fouled on an old cable, or possibly wreckage.

If he'd had a "tripping line", a buoyed line secured to the crown of the anchor, he could have pulled the anchor up and away from the cable by taking in on the buoy line.
We rarely buoy the anchor except when anchoring where we believe there are likely to be old cables and abandoned moorings. We may also buoy the anchor when we are in a crowded anchorage, as the buoy shows other yachts, and us, where our anchor lies, perhaps keeping boats from anchoring on top of us.

Our ready anchor is a 7.5 kilogram Bruce. At the crown we have a permanent 18 inch pennant of 1/4 inch Dyneema. The pennant finds daily use as a keeper, to keep the anchor in the roller. We also use the pennant to secure our tripping line. The buoy at the other end of the tripping line is a toggle buoy used in lobstering, about softball sized, spliced to 5/16 inch yellow polypropylene and with an eye splice at the other end to which we bend the pennant. Polypropylene floats, so the buoy line is less apt to foul on the anchor (or on anything else on the bottom) than nylon or another sinking line.

When weighing anchor one must have a boathook handy to pick up the tripping line, and a certain amount of care must be taken to keep from fouling the line in the propeller - another reason to use a highly visible floating tripping line.

An alternative to a buoyed tripping line is to bring the tripping line up the anchor rode, with little slack, and seize it to the rode at a point where the rode will be on deck when the rode is all the way in ("up and down"). I have never done this, but it seems likely to work. The tripping line could twist around the rode a few turns, but that could be remedied.

One 54 yacht I cruised on for six months buoyed the anchor every set. The anchors were heavy (the storm anchor, a Luke Herreshoff type, weighed 150 pounds), and we brought them on deck. With a tripping line, one man could tally on the anchor rode, another on the tripping line, allowing the anchor to be brought on deck more easily and without banging up the furniture, as the skipper used to say.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

With a Twist

A friend is an engineer with Newport News Shipyard, and for several years he's been working on the George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), commissioned January 2009 and the last of the Nimitz class carriers.

(Didn't they used to wait a while longer before naming major combatants after politicians?)

He reports - and this is public information - that the four propeller shafts on the Bush are some 400 feet long and 30 inches in diameter of the toughest steel. At flank speed, which is classified information, the shafts twist one and a half times from the gearbox to the propeller.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Best Christmas Present

The best Christmas present I ever received - of a nautical nature - was from my parents, in 1982 when I received my commission as an ensign in the United States Coast Guard. The gift was Nikon 7 x 50 mm Tropical model binoculars, with a mill scale. These aluminum body binoculars are as good today as they were in 1982, with no column error, bright as can be. They are tough as nails, not only waterproof but even surviving my father in law running them over! They are still made I believe, although they don't come cheap.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

To the Bitter End

Some cruisers mark the anchor rode with whippings. One system I have seen uses the following:

30 feet:   One blue mark

60 feet:   Two blue marks

90 feet:   Three blue marks

120 feet:  Four  blue marks

150 feet:  One red mark

180 feet:  One red mark and one blue mark

210 feet:  One red mark and two blue marks

240 feet:  One red mark and three blue marks

270 feet:  One red mark and four blue marks

300 feet:  Two red marks.

(Credit to

I use those little strips you can buy in marine stores. Some people say these don't last; I hope someday I can do enough cruising to see if that is true.

Lynn and Larry Pardey use a variation of the whipping method. Their rodes are identical in length and the system, for each rode, is symmetrical around the mid point of the rode, so the rode can be switched end for end (to even wear) without changing the system!

We carry two rodes, each 300 feet with 30 feet of anchor chain. One rode is shackled to the ready anchor and lives in the chain locker, and the other lives in the starboard sail locker, with the chain in a stout canvas bag, the second anchor on top of the coiled and stopped rode.

On the main rode we used to have a rope to chain splice, but I changed that for a shackle. I was a little worried about chafe at the splice. The shackle is seized with soft Monel seizing wire, nice stuff, I recommend it. Ideally, the shackle might not be stainless, which some say is more prone to fracturing.

The shackle sometimes hangs up in the roller and the chain pipe but it's no big deal.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

What Money is For

Writing yesterday's post reminded me of a pleasant sight we saw in Nantucket during that late August visit. After dinner, a beautiful white sportfishing boat, seventy feet or so, picked up a mooring next to us. There were two crew, a skipper and a hand, and about 7:00 they began to wash down and clean the boat from the top of the tuna tower down. As darkness grew they turned on the halogen deck and tower lights, and the stainless and white boat was like a big jewel in the night. The two men seemed to be enjoying themselves, and it was clear that the owner was due on board.

It was full dark by the time they wrapped up, at which point I believe beers appeared. One then went ashore in the club launch and returned a little while later in a "flats boat", which he tied alongside, completing the picture.

That's what money's for!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Bahamian Moor

The boys and I motored around Nantucket Harbor looking for an anchoring hole. No dice, and finally the harbormaster directed us to the northern edge of the anchorage, a little southwest of First Point. There was open water there, but there was also about three knots of current.

The bottom is hard sand, good holding bottom. But I knew when the current reversed the anchor would likely trip and maybe it wouldn't reset.

A Bahamian moor was the obvious answer. We lowered the anchor, paid out the appropriate scope, settled back in the current and made sure the anchor was set. Then we paid out the same amount of rode again, lowered the second anchor, and pulled ourselves back up to the midpoint between the two anchors.

A few hours later the current had reversed and we lay to the second anchor. The first anchor remained dug in and we didn't have to worry about whether it, or the second anchor, would trip out as every six hours the current reversed.

Our swinging radius was much reduced, which was a good thing so long as the radius more or less matched that of nearby boats. We used a Bahamian moor once in a narrow tidal river where not only was there a reversing current, if we swung much we'd probably ground on nearby flats.

I take both anchors to the bow. I doubt there are many circumstances in which it would be appropriate to secure one anchor to the stern and another to the bow.

If you lay to two anchors for several days and the winds shifts around the compass your anchor lines could twist. Some books talk about joining both rodes, for example with bowlines secured to a big shackle and swivel, and laying to a single line, to eliminate this twisting. Sounds complicated but I could see how this could be correct sometimes.

I used to worry when anchoring this way that at slack water the rodes might hang up on the keel or the prop, but nylon sinks and I believe it hangs below the keel until the current sorts itself out. Perhaps if I had a fin keel with a separate rudder I would weight the rodes 30 or so feet out from the boat so they hung straight down when under no strain. I carry a few short lengths of chain for that sort of thing.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Multidimensional Vortices

My parents and another couple were close reaching in the trade winds when suddenly their yacht was seized by a vortex from another dimension, spinning the boat and holding it in its grip!

In fact, unbeknownst to the crew the anchor had dropped off the roller, run out all its rode, and grabbed a coral head two hundred feet down. But to my mother, at the helm, the sensation was so unnerving and mysterious her first thought was that the Bermuda Triangle was at work.

Even after they figured out what had happened, it was a bit of a situation, with 25 knots of wind, a sea running, and the boat jibing and tacking out of control. Of course they dropped the sails but the anchor was stuck, and they had to cut the rode, fast.

Someone grabbed a galley carving knife and stumbled to the foredeck, but the charter company's maintenance didn't extend to knife sharpening. It was a frightening several minutes before they finally sawed through the hard nylon anchor rode and continued on their way to Tortola.

Even in the absence of multidimensional vortices, one might have to cut a run-out anchor rode in a hurry. The correct way to secure the bitter end of an anchor rode is shown in this photo.  The blue 5/16 inch line is secured to a padeye mounted high in the chain locker, using a bowline. The other end of the blue line is tied to an eye splice in the bitter end of the rode, again with a bowline. (It looks like I put a turn around the eye, which might reduce chafe.) Importantly, the blue line is long enough to extend well clear of the chain pipe, as shown. Thus the bitter end is well secured but if one has to cut the rode there is only the 5/16 inch line to slash.

I am no expert on all-chain anchor rodes, but I assume the above technique is particularly important with all chain.

These bowlines will be inspected rarely, so each is tied with a long tale and the tale is seized back to the bowline, using sail twine pushed through the blue line with a needle and sail palm. You can just see the seizing in this photo.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

S.S. Santa Maria

In 1956 my family, who had resided in Peru since 1946, returned to the States on the Grace Lines ship Santa Maria, as pictured here. These ships were unusual in that they carried fifty-two passengers in addition to break bulk (in five holds) and deck cargo. Their routes were east coast U.S. to the Carribean, Canal Zone, west coast South America as far as Valparaiso ("Valpo") Chile, and sometimes U.S. west coast. They were beautifully maintained and well run ships, with a distinctive white and green stack. The passengers travelled in great comfort, with air conditioning, a pool, and comfortable public areas.

This painting shows the ship alongside in some river port, perhaps Buenaventura. The ship is off loading to the pier and also, on the port side, to lighters. A lighter is anchored in the stream as well, already loaded and ready to go up river to a smaller port. Aft and alongside there is a small boat, perhaps that of the ship's agent.

Friday, December 18, 2009


I am trying to give some form to this blog thing . . . so every Friday On the Wind will inform the reader what is the Best of a given category, my opinion.

Best nautical short story or novella. Hands down, Joseph Conrad's Typhoon. Some, who have not read any or much Conrad, may shudder, consider Conrad to be one of those unreadable Serious Writers of the last age, and avert their thoughts. But you are mistaken! Conrad, a sea officer, knows all aspects of the human heart, the amusing, the solemn - and the dark. His writing transcends. Here, from Typhoon:

At its setting the sun had a diminished diameter and an expiring brown, rayless glow, as if millions of centuries elapsing since the morning had brought it near its end. A dense bank of cloud became visible to the northward; it had a sinister dark olive tint, and lay low and motionless upon the sea, resembling a solid obstacle in the path of the ship. She went floundering towards it like an exhausted creature driven to its death. The coppery twilight retired slowly, and the darkness brought out overhead a swarm of unsteady, big stars, that, as if blown upon, flickered exceedingly and seemed to hang very near the earth.

Here, Captain McWhirr tells his mate why they will not try to evade the probable typhoon by following published "storm strategy":

"But the truth is that you don't know if the fellow is right, anyhow. How can you tell what a gale is made of till you get it? He isn't aboard here, is he? Very well. Here he says that the centre of them things bears eight points off the wind; but we haven't got any wind, for all the barometer falling. Where's his centre now?"

"We will get the wind presently," mumbled Jukes.

"Let it come, then," said Captain MacWhirr, with dignified indignation. "It's only to let you see, Mr. Jukes, that you don't find everything in books. All these rules for dodging breezes and circumventing the winds of heaven, Mr. Jukes, seem to me the maddest thing, when you come to look at it sensibly."

He raised his eyes, saw Jukes gazing at him dubiously, and tried to illustrate his meaning.

"About as queer as your extraordinary notion of dodging the ship head to sea, for I don't know how long, to make the Chinamen comfortable; whereas all we've got to do is to take them to Fu-chau, being timed to get there before noon on Friday. If the weather delays me -- very well. There's your log-book to talk straight about the weather. But suppose I went swinging off my course and came in two days late, and they asked me: 'Where have you been all that time, Captain?' What could I say to that? 'Went around to dodge the bad weather,' I would say. 'It must've been dam' bad,' they would say. 'Don't know,' I would have to say; 'I've dodged clear of it.' See that, Jukes? I have been thinking it all out this afternoon."

He looked up again in his unseeing, unimaginative way. No one had ever heard him say so much at one time. Jukes, with his arms open in the doorway, was like a man invited to behold a miracle. Unbounded wonder was the intellectual meaning of his eye, while incredulity was seated in his whole countenance.

"A gale is a gale, Mr. Jukes," resumed the Captain, "and a full-powered steam-ship has got to face it. There's just so much dirty weather knocking about the world, and the proper thing is to go through it."

Or this when, upon the typhoon assailing the Nan-Shan, Jukes is swept across the bridge and fetches up on a stanchion:

It seemed to him he remained there precariously alone with the stanchion for a long, long time. The rain poured on him, flowed, drove in sheets. He breathed in gasps; and sometimes the water he swallowed was fresh and sometimes it was salt. For the most part he kept his eyes shut tight, as if suspecting his sight might be destroyed in the immense flurry of the elements. When he ventured to blink hastily, he derived some moral support from the green gleam of the starboard light shining feebly upon the flight of rain and sprays. He was actually looking at it when its ray fell upon the uprearing sea which put it out.

It gets better. And there is, of course, a theme and a depth central to Conrad which you will approach while you are enjoying your read.

Other Conrad novellas to look for are "An Outpost of Civilization" (hah!), "The End of the Tether" (how, how can it come to this, for such a good man?) and "Youth" (oh, Youth!).

If you have not read Conrad, and do read him, please let me know by comment if I have mislead you. I don't think I have.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Inheritors - Part Two

Cartoon, two guys sitting around a dock, one says to the other: "I just realized why there aren't any old timers around anymore.  We're the old timers!"

I called the first part of this essay Part One (December 14) mostly because I wasn't sure where I was going with it. It is fine to say we are the Inheritors of the nautical tradition, but what do we do with that? I'm not sure, but I do know I like to teach younger folks how to navigate and run a ship, and sometimes - often - that means teaching them the old ways and why it was or is done that way.

On the cutter Steadfast we were rigging new monkey lines, the vertical man ropes the boat crew hold while the boat is being lowered, so if the falls let go the crew don't drop. The lines, ten to a boat and two boats, were one and 1/2 inch manilla, and they needed splicing and whipping. So I taught the deck gang how make an eye splice and how to sew a whipping. A sewn whipping in big three strand manilla is a pleasure to make and looks great, and whipping all those lines was a nice break from a needle gun and a paint brush. The guys liked it and I think it gave them some pride. Anchor drills and towing drills were similar opportunities to re-learn the old ways.

The junior quartermasters all learned in A School how to make a running fix and how to double the angle on the bow, but of course they forgot it pretty quick and they'd never done it on board. I worked with the chief, and the junior petty officers relearned those skills. Running along a coastline at a standard bell of 15 knots one can do those two fixes pretty rapidly and it is kind of magical how one can make a good fix off two lines of position derived from a single landmark. (Here's a nice illustration.) For that matter crossing the Gulf Stream's 4 knots from Florida to the Bahamas we retaught the concept of a DR (dead or deduced reckoning) plot and although they'd learned it in school it was satisfying for the petty officers to see, dramatically, how a DR plot and a fix are compared to give set and drift and a corrected course.

On watch we'd block off the gyrocompass repeater and the helmsman would steer by magnetic compass for minutes at a time. This was a little challenging because the magnetic compass was mounted a deck above and the helmsman saw the lubber line through a periscope, but one patrol the gyro suddenly crapped out and stayed bad for the trip and the guys were already comfortable steering by magnetic compass.

File:Joshua Slocum.jpgOn Journeyman we also show the kids the old ways and why it was or is done that way. We might also talk about Joshua Slocum and others, if a teachable moment occurs. In 1901 Slocum wrote a lively book of his circumnavigation (Sailing Alone Around the World) and he could be glib, but I defy any mariner to read his account of transitting the Straits of Magellan without becoming in awe of his abilities.

I hope these sorts of exercises, and many others, give young sailors a sense that others came before them. I know they do for me.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bungee clamp

Like most cruisers, I use bungee cords for various applications on board. To secure the bungee it is usually necessary to form a loop, and I have seen loops formed using tiny hose clamps. I used to sew a miniature seizing to form a loop (slow, but it made a nice looking job).

I have since discovered a tool used by commercial fishermen which clamps a bungee very easily. It uses the stainless C fasteners seen in the photo. I bought mine at Hamilton Marine,  with a huge bag of fasteners, for just a few bucks.

I use a short piece of bungee to hold open the cockpit hatches, looping it over a cleat on the coaming. It works perfectly in that application, more secure and less fussy than a piece of line.

You can see a little Halon fire extinguisher mounted on the underside of the hatch, handy when my wife catches the stove on fire.

I anchor each end of the bungee under a finish washer secured with a short fat wood screw. The finish washer really grips the bungee, such that there is no need to fashion a loop.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Night Moves

This trick might actually be as ancient as the first campfires, but I suppose people are being born every day who haven't learned it.

If it is dark and you need to preserve your night vision but you must also turn on a light, shut one eye. You'll still have pretty good night vision when you shut off the light.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Inheritors (Part One)

When I was a kid my father and I, carrying a torn mainsail, visited a sail loft in the back streets of a Martha's Vineyard town. The sailmaker, who'd repaired sails all his life, was old, maybe 75 or 80, and this was about 1970. So he'd worked on the sails of schooners, which filled Vineyard Sound into the 1930's. Maybe he'd worked on the sails of the last of the square rigged ships; the Peking and others didn't retire from the nitrate and grain trades until 1932 and beyond. I remember the sailmaker as a man of few words and I am making some assumptions here, but I think I'm safe in doing so.

I was already pretty into sailing by this point, including marlinspike seamanship and some canvas work, and while the sailmaker sewed I told him about my interest, in the way of a thirteen year old boy. The sailmaker said little, but when we left he put into my hand a lump of beeswax and some sail needles and twine.

Much has changed about sailing over the years, but the essentials are constant. The sea is still an implacable wilderness, caring no more whether you live or die than when it drowned the crew of a Phoenician galley. Still, there is Mansfield's "the wheel's kick and the wind's song and white sail's shaking, and a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking." Still, as Bob Griffith wrote, "On watch at night you hold the lives of your sleeping shipmates in the sharpness of your eye, the computer of your mind, and the palm of your hand. You participate in the mystique of the watch, the unbroken succession of helmsmen on a passage."

While some of my best friends are schooner trash, I am far from a yo ho ho, sway up the deadeyes kind of sailor. Give me a 40 knot carbon fiber multihull any day over a decaying gaff rigger ready to sink at the mooring, and I just love fiberglass. But all of us, from the skipper of a bowrider on up, are inheritors of the tradition informed by the unchanging nature of the sea.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Better Ladder

 When I built a new ladder for Journeyman for use on the hard, I angled each step as pictured. Now I can, with a certain amount of care, walk down the ladder facing out and carrying something in both hands. It is a big improvement over a regular ladder. I built it of two by fours, and end-nailed each step with three big nails. An adjustable carpenter's square helped in getting each angle identical.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Halyards, New

 Journeyman's halyards had grown old and tired and were overdue for replacement. Normally I'd undertake that sort of work myself - I rebuke myself for laziness - but I decided to ask Jan Pedersen of Bayview Rigging and Sails to do the work.
Mr. Pedersen is Norwegian. His father was a fisherman and ran a boat yard and Jan began working on sails at age 12. His work is both art and science, and my halyards are things of beauty, with superb detail. (Notice the twin whippings in the shackle end of the red halyard, above.) The price ($780.00!) took my breath away but considering the result, the halyards' cost per use over say ten years, and the material cost and skill that went into them, I am very happy.

Jan built the halyards of Sta-Set X Plus, by New England Ropes. This rope uses a Dacron sheath and a combination of Spectra and Dacron in the core.

My old jib halyard was Dacron and 7 by 19 wire. When the sail was hoisted I could put several turns of wire on the halyard winch and the luff was as firm as you could want it. I find with the new jib halyard I must sometimes top up the halyard a little when beating in a breeze. I also must, this spring, carefully roughen up the drum of my halyard winch so it can grip the rope better.

I take the halyards off the mast in winter, to keep the sun off them.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Those Little Things

In writing yesterday's entry, I was reminded that part of the rudder - tiller connection in Journeyman involves a shear pin. I never noticed it until last spring, when on our first sail I felt some give in the connection. The tiller secures to the head of the rudder post with what is essentially a clamp, tightened with a big Allen bolt. I tightened the bolt tight, but still the tiller gave. Scrutiny showed a stainless fastener passing through the bronze clamp assembly, through the top of the rudder post, and to the other side of the clamp assembly. The fastener was tapped or cut flush on each side, but I could see that the diameter of the fastener on one side was perhaps 1/4 inch, and on the other side perhaps 3/16 inch. I had encountered a tapered shear pin, now sheared.

This was a new one on me, and I made my problem known to the Albin Vega egroup. As is usual, someone had encountered the same problem and I was told where to source a replacement pin (McMaster Carr, "Over 480,000 Products"), and the part number.

Upon receiving the pins  - I bought a spare - I lined up the tiller, drove out the broken pin with a hammer and punch, tapped home the new pin, cut the ends with a hacksaw, and touched up the ends with a bastard file. Every once in a while a job is easy.

The broken pin was apparently stainless, yet it had fractured in two places. I assume it is a special alloy, brittle and with a known failure point, exactly what is wanted in a shear pin. By using the right replacement, I still have a tight, play free connection between tiller and rudder, and a weak link protects the rudder and tiller.

By contrast, another egroup member said he had replaced his broken shear pin with a stainless bolt. The years had ovaled the hole, and the bolt now allowed play, not good. And that bolt likely had a far higher shear strength than did the shear pin for which Per Brohall had designed the system back in 1964. I suspect my shear pin broke in the launching process; perhaps the rudder hung up on the trailer's hydraulic arm. Had the pin been a stainless bolt this accident might have twisted the internal structure of the rudder, or fractured the tiller head, instead of breaking a two dollar shear pin.

In most instances a careful engineer or naval architect has designed the various systems on our yachts, and one deviates from the design at his peril. That is not to say one must slavishly follow what has been done or built before, especially if, as certainly is common, time has suggested a failure mode the engineer may not have predicted. But it is sloppy to deviate from the designed system - it is sloppy to replace a shear pin with a bolt - without understanding the system and without deliberately deciding that the new way is probably an improvement.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


We were sailing our Soling from Vineyard Haven to Edgartown one blowy day when the tiller broke off at the stock! The tiller, a robust piece of teak, had been weakened by the corrosive products of the stainless throughbolts reacting with the aluminum tiller head. We got a tow in.

Short of an oar over the transom the rudder - tiller combination is as simple as steering gear can be, but like everything structural on a yacht it is subject to decay, corrosion and wear. Ian Nicholson wrote in his excellent book Surveying Small Craft (Adlard Coles Ltd. 1974): "A simple tiller might seem a pretty safe piece of equipment. In fact, the history of ocean cruising is littered with cases of tillers breaking off short."

In addition to making certain the rudder - tiller connection is beefy and sound, there are the rudder bearings to consider. On Journeyman the rudder is keel mounted, and the lower bearing is contained in a fairly massive bronze shoe bolted to solid glass at the after end of the keel. It's a good arrangement, but one day the bearing will wear out.

I'll know it's worn out because every year I test the bearing. The test is simplicity. With the boat hauled, I lash the tiller firmly in place, grab the rudder itself, and give it a good couple of shoves, athwartships and fore and aft.

If there is much play at all in the rudder, the bearing may need replacement. When that happens I will reach for a recent  Ocean Navigator article written by my friend Peter Stoops, who replaced the rudder bearings on Freedom, his Swan 36 (Ocean Navigator, May/June 2009).

Saturday, December 5, 2009

There is none so blind . . .

as he who has been splashed in the face by the sulphuric acid in an exploding wet cell battery. Batteries really do explode (the charging process creates oxygen and hydrogen, the fuel for some rockets), and every year surgeons remove the eyes of people who thought they could blink ahead of an explosion.

A friend of mine, a smoker, once needed light to check the level in his boat battery, so he used his lighter.  His vision survived the blast. A few years later he was sewing a heavy sail on a machine and the needle splintered and pieces pierced his eye. Expensive, but his eye survived that too. Then last year he was incinerating garbage and a Pam aerosol can exploded and the nozzle struck his pupil at high velocity, finishing the job. He can drive, with his head cocked.

Safety glasses are wonderful things, and I keep a pair handy on board. I never but never check battery fluid levels, or wire the batteries, without the glasses on.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Go Bag

 The grab it and go bag has various flares, rockets and smoke flares, of course, as well as a signaling mirror and an orange poncho, packed in a small river bag. The big tubes in the photo are parachute flares, SOLAS quality, 1000 foot altitude and forty second burn time. They cost $50 each but I get them for free.

SOLAS is the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, and it imposes certain very rigorous standards on life saving equipment. Merchant ships are generally required to have on board only SOLAS certified flares, rafts etc. SOLAS gear is much more expensive than similar items which are merely US Coast Guard approved.

In my town there are shops which inspect and repack liferafts, service EPIRBS and the like for merchant ships. These ships cannot have on board flares which are past their expiration date, and if I ask at the shop I can have a few for free. The flares are past their dates but as SOLAS gear they still have years of reliable use. I think.

We also have a flare kit handy to the cockpit, with a flare pistol. I buy a few new cartridges every year, to be Coast Guard compliant. True to our propensity to practice and drill, the kids and I shoot off the oldest ones each summer, in daylight, toward the water.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Emergency Checklist

When we bought Journeyman the children were nine, eight and six. I sailed a lot with just them as crew, and I often wondered how well they'd do if I dropped dead or something. We used to go over scenarios, and I made up a checklist for using the radio. We'd drill, too, and I'd throw in real-world conditions like the radio being switched off at the panel. I am pretty sure if they'd had a big problem at least they could have kept the boat under control, fixed the position, and gotten a Mayday off.

I carry a waterproof handheld VHF radio now, and I should add that to the list. When we are offshore I keep that radio in the grab it bag, so it would go in the dinghy in any event.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Boat Book

Not the log - that's different. Every cruising boat needs a book for lists, standard procedures, and the radio stations for Red Sox games. Such a book does Journeyman have.

The book itself is a Rite in the Rain, by J.L. Darling (  These books are tough, waterproof, easy to write in and cheap. I buy mine at a surveyor supply store.

In the book I keep the number for the taxi, Red Sox stations, abandon ship procedure, checklists for getting underway and for leaving the boat, wrench sizes for transmission dip sticks and the like, so at least you have the right tool when you finally get to the nut, job lists, etc. I treat the books as expendable, and replace one every three years or so.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Winter List

Here is the work list for 2009-2010, minor items omitted.

Remove bow and stern lights. Journeyman has masthead running lights and there just is no sufficient reason to duplicate these by retaining the original lights at the pulpit and stern pulpit.

Fix steaming light. There is a "steaming light" mounted on the mast about ten feet off the deck, used when motoring and also useful at lighting the foredeck when changing sails. It has not worked for several years, despite several efforts at repair. I will probably replace the light itself and the circuit.

Attend to propeller shaft packing. The shaft packing hasn't been changed out in a long time and I ought to do this if only to force myself to really inspect the fitting. I may try some of the newer teflon-goretex packing. It is claimed that the material is so self-lubricating that there is no need to allow the packing gland to drip occasionally.

Reframe forward windows. I reframed the main cabin windows last spring, because they had started leaking. The forward windows (two, very small) present the same problem.

Cole stove shielding. We overnight more and more each fall, and when the stove is hot I worry a bit about the deckhead ("ceiling") and the adjacent bulkhead. I want to put in some attractive shielding, which may be a challenge.

Cole stove deck leak. There is a leak around the smokehead (stovepipe), lets in some rain.

Redbed cleats, winches etc. Last spring I rebedded all the stanchions, pulpits, chainplates and cabintop rails, a major job. I need to finish up that job by rebedding the hardware I didn't get to.

Better reading lights in salon. The reading lights are attractive and original, but not really good for reading.

Replace dodger. With new hardware and a top-notch job, this could cost $1500 or more, which I can't easily afford. I asked Seabags, a Portland maker of handbags which also does some sail repair and similar work, to quote me a price for replicating the original dodger, reusing the existing hardware. I'm hoping it will cost $300 or so - we'll see.

The rest is odds and ends, some quite important but not major in terms of time or expense.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Journeyman's beautiful propeller has two zincs, and I am pretty careful about keeping them renewed. As anyone reading this likely knows, dissimilar metals near each other and submerged in an electrolyte (e.g., seawater) form an electric circuit. Ions (dissolved metals) from the "more noble" metal migrate to the "less noble" metal. This statement approximately exhausts my knowledge of electrolysis, but it is about all I need to know: if I have a zinc on my bronze prop, the zinc erodes instead of the prop. But if the zinc is all gone, or if I bolted the zinc onto a greasy shaft, the circuit forms between the steel propeller shaft and the prop, and the prop erodes . . .

Bronze that has been subject to electrolysis takes on a reddish hue. Pitting may appear, and metal may be gone from thin edges.

The first few years I owned Journeyman I had a problem with shaft zincs loosening through vibration. A trick prevents this. Tighten the zinc over a nice clean shaft. Then tap the zinc firmly all over with a hammer, re-tighten, and repeat. I usually back up the hammer with a sledge held against the zinc, so I won't punish the shaft.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Journeyman has two solar powered vents, one over the head and one on the "aft deck".

The aft vent, pictured above, replaced a passive (unpowered) vent. Because the vent is just aft of the cockpit coaming it is out of clear air and the unpowered vent was ineffective. This Nicro solar powered vent is effective at exhausting air from the engine compartment. The solar panel drives a motor with a fan attached. By switching fans, the vent can draw air in or be set to exhaust.

Would this vent be sufficient to ventilate the compartment of a gasoline engine, where a good sparkproof powerful exhaust fan is needed? I think I'd want to go with 12 volts in that critical installation.

The aft vent represents an improvement over the original solar vent, in that the solar panel not only powers the fan, it charges a Ni-Cad battery, allowing the fan to operate when the sun goes down. The theory is that evening air is cooler and hence drier, so pulling evening air into the boat produces a drier boat. I guess.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Last summer I hit a ledge - see post for September 22, 2009 - and when we hauled I saw that the damage is about what I expected:

Journeyman's keel is made up of pieces of steel embedded in resin, and it is pretty tough. I'll sand and wire brush this damage clean, paint it out with epoxy, fair it with thickened epoxy, sand it fair, coat it again with unthickened resin, and call it good.

The barnacles are here because this is where a keel block was last winter, and I couldn't get to it. Ships have "blocking plans" for placement of keel blocks, and the several plans are rotated so a spot blocked up on one dry docking isn't blocked in the next docking. I try to do the same with Journeyman.

Friday, November 13, 2009


When I bought Journeyman she came with a MaxProp wheel, and it is a thing of beauty. It feathers for sailing, of course, but that's not all. A fixed prop is pitched to maximize efficiency when going ahead. As a consequence the pitch going astern is all wrong, which is why most sailboats back down sluggishly. On the MaxProp the pitch is set for maximum efficiency going ahead and going astern, when the shaft reverses and the blades flip. With a three bladed prop, Journeyman powers ahead with vigor, and backs down like a bastard.

The wheel is tough enough too, having survived numerous entanglements with lobster pot warps.

At the end of every season I polish this baby up, replace the two zincs (shaft and hub, not shown here) and pump fresh grease into the two grease fittings. Old grease squeezes out the various joints, and I just get a little shiver, thinking of the fine gearing of this exquisite machine, packed with fresh lithium grease and ready for the next season . . .

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Thousand Words

Monday, November 2, 2009


An essay I once read postulated that two technological improvements of the last 100 years have actually improved our lives: modern medicine and recorded music. Rapid transportation, automobiles, television, the internet - all overrated and even inimical to our content.

A similar argument might be made about sailing in the twenty-first century. Three improvements I will unhesitatingly grant you: electronic position finding, radar and the depth sounder. While there is a modest charm to navigating in zero visibility, without electronics fear soon becomes the overwhelming characteristic of such sailing. I own a sounding lead, and have used it when my depth sounder was out, but I like knowing where the bottom is at a glance!

And I like synthetic ropes and sails. I am too young to have sailed with manilla and cotton, but all that careful drying and tending sounds like a pain. Although I was told once that a flaked out soft cotton jib was wonderful for a nap . . .

But as for laptops, smart phones, even outboard dingies, I'm not so sure. Each adds a level of complexity, complication and frustration that I go to sea to leave. Look at the folks in the picture, circa late 50's or early 60's. The essence of why we go to sea is here: a fresh breeze and a fine reach, companionship, and relief from the pressures and complications that beset us the moment we step ashore. Isn't the idea to get away from complications, not to carry them with us?

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Not Tuna

Yesterday at 0600 I was heading out Pollock Rip to troll for Bluefin Tuna. There were four of us, on a friend's 24 foot Grady-White.

South from the elbow of Cape Cod all the way to the northern tip of Nantucket stretch a series of constantly shifting shoals and channels. Charts may be inaccurate after one winter storm, and even the channels have eight foot spots. The tides are fast and the combination of current, easterly seas and shoal water makes for breaking seas and even tidal overfalls. Bad reputations are usually deserved, and Pollock Rip and environs have a very bad reputation indeed.

[chart, Nantucket Sound and approaches]
On Friday morning the seas were six to eight feet, without much breeze. It was lumpy heading out the Rip but once in deep water conditions were better.

The tuna season was nearing an end. The folks I was with are novices at the game, with one full season. But they had studied up and had the right equipment (including expensive rods and reels) and in 2009 they boated three Bluefin and lost one at the boat, an excellent 30% success rate.

Techniques for taking Bluefin include harpoon, chumming and bait fishing, and trolling. We trolled "spreader rigs" simulating a school of 12 inch squid. At four to five knots, the rigs splashed at the surface and looked enticing.

But we got no hits. One nearby boat caught a fish, with a 78 inch fork length. Bluefin weigh up to and over 1000 pounds. (The record is 1,496 pounds.)

Our fishfinder kept picking up fish near the bottom, and I finally insisted we stop the boat and jig. We were in 150 feet, and the fourteen ounce Norwegian cod jig quickly reached bottom. In due course I foul hooked, boated and released a small dog shark. Hey, I was on the board.

Heading back in daylight one could see the shoals extending north and south for miles. My personal nightmare (or one of them) involves being lost in shoals, breakers all around showing white in the fog, and not knowing the way out. Stray from the channel in Pollock Rip, and you're living it.

On the south tip of Monomoy Island we passed close to a big colony of Grey Seals, a hundred or more. At the top of the beach was a giant bull, much bigger than any of his harem. Splashing and wrestling at the water's edge were pups, and a few hundred yards away was another giant bull, alone and morose even at a distance. I suppose he had been ousted from his harem.

Grey Seals weigh up to 900 pounds, where Harbor Seals reach 300. Grey Seals were little known on our coast in modern times until about 20 years ago, and they are now prolific in the Gulf of Maine and waters off Cape Cod, with several large rookeries. With the seals have come their ancient enemy, the Great White, and these sharks too have become part of the local ecology.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Rubber Docking

The first time I had the conn of a Coast Guard cutter (the 210 foot Steadfast, MEC 623), the captain threw a paperboard box off the bridge, had me steam away, and told me to turn the ship around and stop her alongside the box. (This was to be done with my never taking the helm, but rather by giving helm and engine commands, which is both easier than it sounds - gets trickier when, coming alongside, line commands are thrown in - and really cool.) I did ok, but the real lesson was the value of learning how the ship turned, accelerated and stopped in an open sea, with nothing around to hit. We called it "rubber docking", and it's how we learned to maneuver the ship.

I still use the technique today. If I am making a difficult approach to a pier or even a mooring, say with a strong wind or tide or both, I may make my first approach a dummy run. I'll give it my best shot, but I'll intentionally stay five or ten feet off the pier, and use the dummy run to gauge wind and current. The data I gain makes the real approach a lot smoother.

It's important that the crew understand that the first approach is a dummy run, so no one tries to be a hero by leaping for the dock.

Pictures of Steadfast

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Cleat as fairlead

A hollow-base cleat, such as this Swedish design or the famous Herreshoff cleat (pictured below), can be used as a fairlead. In the photo, I had secured Journeyman alongside a pier. Had I secured the stern line directly to this cleat the line would have been only three feet long, a sure formula for a broken line or strained gear if a powerboat went through throwing a wake. (A line too short lacks give if strained.) By taking the line to the opposite quarter I was able to give it a length of seven feet or so. With the pierside cleat acting as a fairlead, the line would lead correctly even if the boat shifted.

The Herreshoff cleat.

Monday, October 26, 2009


Journeyman came with weather cloths, which I have never seen fit to remove. The disadvantage is increased windage. The advantages are increased privacy in a harbor and protection from spray and wind. I also believe they cause the yacht to lie steadier when at anchor in a breeze, by increasing the windage aft.

I think I'd have them on my next yacht.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Dinghy part two

Dinghies have the annoying habit of going bump in the night, requiring someone to get up and deal. Grand yachts once had long boat booms, equipped with an outhaul. When not in use and not taken aboard, the yacht's tender would be run out to the end of the boom. In fact, these booms have made a reappearance as part of the equipment of huge power yachts and their coterie of tenders and "toys". Although some of these yachts seem almost totally divorced from their tradition, it is somehow comforting to see their boat booms, which would not have been out of place on Mr. Morgan's Corsair.

If your LOA is shy of one hundred feet, a boat boom may be difficult to stow. Alternatives are many: a very short painter (ineffective), a bucket tied off the dinghy's stern so it trails better (sounds ridiculous), using a spinnaker pole as a boat boom (not long enough). On Journeyman we tie the tender alongside, amidships, using the painter and the little stern line. I bring the painter through the bow chock and back to the cockpit, so I can adjust both bow and stern lines from one location. Although the tender has permanent fenders, they aren't quite enough if a boat speeds by in the night, so I usually hang a couple of regular fenders too.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Last of the Season

After two very long weeks of work, despite an atrocious forecast I was determined to make one more overnight. We left the mooring at 5 and motored just a mile to a big cove with a view of the sea over a strand low enough to be gone at highest water. My wife likes to anchor close to shore, and I do too when the forecast is settled, but ours called for 35 knots south backing to east. So we dropped anchor in good mud 500 feet from shore, depth 39 feet at high tide. I put out 160 feet of rode, waited for the boat to straighten out, and backed down hard for 30 seconds.  The anchor was deep in the mud and even if it came due north and we were fully  exposed we weren't going anywhere. And I was happy I didn't have to worry that my stern was forty feet from a ledge.

The temperature was in the forties and I started a bright fire. The supply of briquettes was low, so I rowed ashore in the dark and gathered driftwood. I was afraid the spruce driftwood would produce little heat but it did the job very nicely. A couple of scotches, and discussion about what changes to make to the boat this winter.

Dinner was red wine, local lamb chops (with rib pieces attached . . . ), parsnips and brussels sprouts from our garden, and hot indian pudding for dessert. You tell me.

The breeze was rising the whole time and after midnight the rigging began to howl, the rain to rattle, and the sloop to lift and yaw and snub the rode. I got up, once, to freshen the nip (let a few inches of line out, and so avoid chafing one spot all night). I guess it was blowing 30 or so. It wasn't the most restful anchorage, but it was a safe one.

If we were sleepless in the wee hours we made up for it by rising at 8:30. Cold and nasty and no fire, but we had a good breakfast of coffee, bacon and eggs and fried English muffins. The breeze had come down a lot, now due east with a cold rain. I got the anchor rode up and down, secured it, and busted out the anchor with a full throttle. She were dug in.

We motorsailed past our mooring and kept going, for we were bound up the river to the yard for hauling.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Dinghy part one

Our dinghy is an 11 foot fiberglass peapod type. It rows and tows well and it can hold a lot of people. It would be a pretty good lifeboat if called upon.

I strung some small diameter fenders along the side. They can be flipped in when not in use. There is also some canvas and rubber fendering at the bow and stern.
When I bought the boat it had decaying foam flotation under the seats. I replaced this (in the fore and middle seats) with fenders, black so the dirt and mildew doesn't show. These fenders are very securely fastened, because if the boat were swamped and the fenders were called upon to hold the boat up the fenders would come under a fair amount of strain, trying to get out from under the seats.  The fenders are fastened with doubled nylon webbing through the eyes at the ends and a strap of webbing across the fender. The webbing is screwed to the underside of the seat with short fat stainless wood screws, with finish washers. Finish washers grip fabric really well.

Under the middle seat you can just see a white PVC pipe with a piece of webbing across it. The pipe holds a really good waterproof flashlight (Pelican brand). The required lights for a row boat under 20 feet is [sic] a flashlight. And if, like me, you have ever rowed in the dark and had a powerboat bearing down and you without a light, you'll never be without one again.  I keep a good whistle on the outside of the pipe, with a little piece of velcro.

Under the forward seat I keep another of those sharp, inexpensive stainless sheath knives they sell at commercial fishing supply stores. The idea is that if the boat were suddenly to sink, I'd have a knife to cut the dinghy painter. Maybe it's unnecessary, but I put it there years ago.

The painter is 33 feet of 1/2 inch yellow polypropylene. Poly floats, making it somewhat less likely that I'll wrap the prop when I mindlessly back over the line. Polypropylene is also nearly as strong as nylon, and inexpensive. When you're putting in an eye splice you need to make some extra tucks, say 6 or 7, to accommodate the very slippery new rope. At 33 feet, I can secure the painter to the mooring pennant and the dinghy will hang astern of the sloop.

In the stern of the dinghy you can see a 1/4 inch nylon line. I use this to tie the dinghy alongside, about which more in the next post.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Runaway Halyard

In my opinion all halyards should be tied off. Too frequently it is necessary (or just handy) to let a halyard run with no one to tend it, and going aloft to retrieve a lost halyard is inconvenient, dangerous, and perhaps impossible at sea.

However, if the halyard has a tail that's simply tied off to the cleat, the halyard will twist each time it's made up and from time to time the tail has to be untied and the halyard straightened out.

A better way is to incorporate a swivel in the tail. Fishermen's supply stores sell heavy, rustless swivels for longlining, with a breaking strength north of 300 pounds. Rigged with a swivel the halyard never twists. It's a neat, seamanlike and inexpensive rig.

Monday, October 12, 2009

How do I Get out of the Water?

An occupational hazard of bar pilots is falling into the water while transferring from the pilot boat to the boarding ladder. For that reason pilot boats always have a permanent boarding ladder built in at the transom.

When I read an account of a man overboard, it seems that one of the moments of crisis comes when the man is alongside the boat. At that point, if the man is conscious and has strength, an effort is typically made to ship a boarding ladder, which means not only getting it out of some locker but trying to make what is essentially a swim ladder function in the open sea. Not so easy, and sometimes the man is lost at that point.

Maybe all boats should have a permanently installed means of getting out of the water and into the boat. We have one on Journeyman, a simple chromed bronze step that snaps down for use.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Under Toad

 The death of a doctor in our area a few days ago got me thinking. He was a very experienced boater, about sixty years old. He sailed his 23 foot sloop to the yard for hauling, a five mile trip. He had towed a twelve foot skiff with a 4 horse outboard, and when he'd delivered the sloop he set off for home in the skiff. The weather was good and winds moderate, but he became overdue and first the overturned skiff and then his body were discovered. His life jacket was on.

As in most casualties the second guessing comes easy. Should've had a handheld VHF. Should've had a survival suit. Shouldn't have gone.

Maybe he fell out of the boat and couldn't catch it. Maybe he had engine trouble and the boat swamped over the transom while he fiddled with the motor. Or maybe the Under Toad got him.

Remember John Irving's Under Toad, from The World According to Garp? Garp's boy Walt is warned summer after summer to "watch out for the undertow" while swimming. He hears "Under Toad" and for years "Walt had been dreading a giant toad, lurking offshore, waiting to suck him under and drag him out to sea. The terrible Under Toad." The Under Toad becomes his parents' metaphor for unknowable and terrible danger, rarely apprehended but never far off.

Seems to me the more water under your keel the more you understand that the Under Toad is out there. You can't anticipate every contingency and you can't prevent every mistake, no matter how good and how smart and how careful you are. One day something lets go and you're in the water or you're tired and run onto a bar or ledge or maybe lightening strikes and then the Under Toad has you.

My wife says after decades of my always coming home she has confidence that I always will. She may worry a little, and then she hears my car in the driveway. But I know, better than she perhaps, that the Under Toad lurks.  

Friday, October 9, 2009


This photo shows the caddy that is just inside the companionway to port. The white dome above is the back of the compass. The caddy is handy for pen, pencil, dividers, Weems plotter etc., and it's a good place to toss your wallet or cell phone. On the right side of the caddy (as seen) you can just see the orange handle of a small screwdriver, switchable between phillips and flat by pulling out the shaft and reinserting it in the handle. I wouldn't be without it in this convenient spot. I'd also like to keep pliers here, maybe on the left side, but I don't want such a mass of steel so close to the compass. I'm hoping one day to find bronze pliers.
Under the caddy you can see a very sharp serrated stainless steel knife in its sheath. The sheath is screwed to the caddy and the knife snaps in, very secure. The knife is ostensibly for emergencies but I mostly use it for limes. These knives are available very inexpensively in fishermen's supply stores.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Flying Batteries

Journeyman has two batteries, a big "house" battery (pictured here) and a smaller starting battery, located under the sole just aft of the house battery, in the same space. The main switch allows me to choose between batteries, or to run them in parallel, or to turn the electrical system off, in which case only the bilge pump circuit remains energized.

I can hardly imagine the calamity that could allow my batteries to fall out of their space, but good practice requires that batteries be secured, so I put a piece of maple across the opening, held by a screw at each end. Does the job.

The Coast Guard requires fishing boats to have batteries in two locations. Typically the main bank is low in the boat and the other, which may be a single battery, is in the wheelhouse. The idea, of course, is to allow the radio to function even if the boat has taken on water. I don't have that set up on Journeyman, but I do carry a handheld, waterproof VHF.

If I were crossing the Atlantic I might set up a separate bank, but perhaps I would instead change over to Absorbed Glass Mat  (AGM) batteries, which it is claimed will provide power even if submerged.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


On Journeyman we use a short piece of line to steady the boom when we are motoring as well as when the boat is on the mooring. We needed a name for this valuable item, so I borrowed the term "snotter" from the spritsail rig. The true snotter is the very short line that connects the sprit to the mast.

The true snotter.

Journeyman's snotter, with the boom locked in.

Journeyman's snotter accomplishes the following:   It makes the boom rock-steady when motoring or on the mooring. This reduces wear and tear on the gooseneck from the otherwise constant motion of the boom when the boat is in the water. It makes the boom an effective grab for anyone who might need steadying, especially when lubbers are coming aboard and the main is not yet up. Reefing the main is safer with the snotter on, although the boat must be right in the wind to use the snotter. Finally, with the snotter locking the boom in position the main is a far more effective steadying sail, and the boom won't clock someone on the head if the boat comes head to wind. The main may flog, but the boom itself won't budge.

Our snotter is nothing more than a six foot piece of 5/8 inch three-strand dacron (but almost any rope would do) with an eye splice in one end. We place the splice over a cleat near the end of the boom and take the snotter to a cleat on the coaming and snug it. The mainsheet is also snug, and of course the topping lift holds the boom up. That's all there is to it, but it is a really valuable little item.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Handy place to stow horn

It's not always easy to predict when you might need the horn so it should be stowed at hand. I keep mine beneath the lazarette hatch, just aft of the tiller:

The holder is made from a notched section of PVC, screwed to the hatch. I sanded the PVC flat where it lies against the hatch, so it is a little more secure. The strap is nylon and it has velcro on it, and of course there is velcro on the PVC as well. The velcro has adhesive but the adhesive will not hold, so I sewed it to the strap, and I sewed it to the PVC as well, through little holes I drilled. The set up has lasted for years.

Whistle signals are one of those salty practices that recreational boaters have let go, it appears to me, and that is unfortunate. One year I was running out the river under power and big, expensive J boat, 50 feet or so, was coming up river going pretty fast and also under power. We were both in the dredged channel and there was no room for error or uncertainty, so I grabbbed the horn and gave him one short bast, for a port to port passage. There was no response from him, which didn't surprise me, but that I had properly signaled my intentions made me feel better and we passed without incident. Maybe the short blast at least prompted him to review the whistle signals he had probably learned in some boating course; I hope it did.

I get the horn out when I am in a narrow channel, or in some channel, such as the Cape Cod Canal or tide-swept Woods Hole, where boats have a hard time maneuvering and you might need to make your intentions clear on very short notice.

Here are the whistle signals. I use only the first two, and very occasionaly the "danger signal."

One short blast: I am turning to starboard (or "will pass port to port"). Two short blasts: I am turning to port (or "will pass starboard to starboard"). Three short blasts: "I am backing down." Five or more short blasts: Danger signal, or "I do not understand your intentions." One long blast: The "bend signal", for a vessel coming around a pier where it may surprise another ship, or sometimes used by a larger vessel leaving a berth.

I use whistle signals rarely, maybe two or three times a season, but it's useful and necessary to know them.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

"Checking the Engine"

In "checking the engine" a surprising number of cruisers do nothing more than check the oil level from time to time, maybe eyeballing the stopped engine too. This may occur with a certain amount of ceremony: It is announced that before the day's sail commences the skipper is going to Check The Engine, all hands are warned to stay clear, the engine cover is hauled back, and the skipper checks the engine oil level and whatever else, almost as though he knows what he's doing.

It is of course essential to check the engine oil level, and, at the same time, to look at the oil for signs of coolant getting into the oil (resulting in a greyish emulsion in the oil). And maybe a shredding belt will be obvious. But most engine problems start as leaks: coolant leaks, raw water leaks, exhaust leaks, fuel leaks, oil leaks. Coolant, raw water (sea water), exhaust, fuel and oil are all under more or less pressure in an operating engine, and that's why one checks for leaks when the engine is running, not when it's stopped. This is fundamental, but as I said a lot of folks don't do it.

An inspection mirror, a flashlight and ear protection are the tools. The hearing protection is not just a matter of preserving hearing, but so you are comfortable taking your time. Look around the oil filter and each fuel filter, checking behind these parts with the inspection mirror as necessary. Check around the fuel injectors and at each connection - diesel fuel is injected at a high pressure, and a leak can result in a fine spray that has caused many fires. Inspect the raw water pump. Same with the heat exchanger. It is all very loud, and please stay clear of rotating parts, but such an inspection will often give you warning of severe failure.

Here's a boring story: A few years ago I saw that the raw water pump was leaking a little at the shaft. I ordered a new one and when I decommissioned I replaced the pump.

That's the end of the story. I know this story would be more exciting had my raw water pump failed on a cruise, maybe at a crucial moment, but as I said, it's a boring story. May your engine stories be boring too.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

A Late Season Overnight

On Friday my wife and I sailed to Jewell Island for an overnight. The forecast was for a moderate easterly blow with rain, but beginning the next day.

We got underway about 5:00 pm. It is about eight miles to Jewell and we didn't want to anchor in the dark, so we motorsailed a lot of the time, on a close fetch. For the last leg, about two miles, we shut down and had a fine reach to Jewell Cove.

Well before we got to the entrance I handed the jib and the main. It is so important to get those things out of the way before entering an anchorage - you really don't want to be messing around with sails when the rocks are 100 feet away and the light is failing. If we hadn't had time to furl the main I'd just have dropped it, and come in all sloppy and sails over the side but focused on the task at hand - keeping the boat off the bricks. As it was, when we entered I was up on the bow keeping a good lookout.

Another boat entered as we did and we were the only boats in the anchorage.  The other boat went to the head of the cove and secured to an old dolphin there. It is shallow in that spot. We picked a wide spot, lowered the anchor to the water, backed down to give her a little sternway, and lowered the hook in 12 feet (low water). I let out 60 feet (30 feet of chain and 30 of rope rode). We waited until the boat straightened out and we backed down pretty hard for about 30 seconds. We usually do that when anchoring for the night, especially if there is wind in the forecast. A lot of folks just back down enough to set the anchor but they don't really test it, and I don't see why not. If you wake in the night and the wind is whistling you can go back to sleep if you know you have already really tested the set of the anchor.

Got a nice fire going with briquettes and beech chunks, very cheery. It was a little breezy now. Nice Friday night music on the radio. Drinks, and dinner of red beans and rice. The forward bunk was cozy and we slept great.

The rain threatened and the wind was rising when we woke up. After breakfast, we got underway as usual. The anchor was dug deep (that's the idea) and when we had the rode about up and down I took a turn around the cleat and, gunning the engine, we broke out the anchor. Then it was easy to get the anchor up and into the roller.

We loitered around the anchorage while I stowed the anchor rode down the naval pipe - I could see there was wind outside and I didn't want to be doing that on a bouncy foredeck, nor did I want to do it while we navigated out the entrance, which has nasty rocks close aboard on both sides. Instead, I stayed on the bow keeping watch and we made sail outside. (The night before, after I dropped the jib I left it hanked on but I folded it up pretty well and tied the folded sail to the pulpit with a sail tie. The sheets were left run aft. The sail was thus mostly off the deck and clear of the anchor but ready to go the next day.)

Then a close reach and a great broad reach, maybe 20 knots of wind. The tide was fair and we were back on the mooring in an hour and a half. By then the rain was in earnest and wet we got! But it was a great late season overnight.


Thursday, October 1, 2009

Oil Lamp

On Journeyman we have a really good oil lamp, the gift of a friend. I don't know who makes it but it is modelled after a miner's lamp and I have seen it in the sailing catalogues. The chimney is protected so you don't have to worry about it. When we are sailing at night I often keep it burning, low.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Spirits Locker

The spirits locker is in the forward cabin under the bunks, in a rack I built into the boat.

I generally keep gin, rum and scotch on board. I use Chivas Regal bottles for decanters because they are fat and steady in a seaway, or if the boat rolls at anchor. With limes and some tonic and ice, I can make a great drink, but plain scotch and boat water tastes awfully good too.
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